Friday, July 31, 2009


Due to an unheard of early pre trip packing on my part, the VOR, GuitarMatt, and I were able to attend the exhibit and Omnitheater film on the Titanic at the Science Museum last evening. The normal scrambling, searching, and cursing had pretty much been dealt with the night before and the VOR managed to get a reservation for a 7:15 'boarding.

The ill fated ship fascinates people, even before Leonardo and Kate slipped down into the hold for some automotive appreciation. I remember reading Walter Lord's A Night to Remember when I was about 10 years old which got me hooked on the ship and the event. The Omnitheater film was not quite as riveting as the movie Titanic (I only saw certain snippets of the movie) and the comfortable seats, placed at an identical angle to my Lazy Boy, caused me to doze off a time or two. The exhibit however, was excellent. It always gives me a thrill when I'm looking at history in the flesh, so to speak, and the artifacts that were brought up and preserved were a great representation of life aboard the ship. The thing that they did that had the most impact on connecting a visitor to the event was to issue a boarding pass in the name of one of the passengers on the vessel. It was only at the end, after the entire exhibit was toured, that you found out whether your passenger survived. The VOR's did. GM and mine did not.

The exhibit was well worth attending and is most certainly thought provoking. Issues of class, chivalry, fate, technology and plain luck were all roiling around in my head as I walked through, reading every single word on the displays. It also reminded me, to paraphrase the masthead on this little page, that Nature is indeed the Boss. Nothing is unsinkable and as we pack up to head north for our 4 day Apostle Islands kayak trip, I will keep that little gem in the back of my mind. I shall return to the keyboard on Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Getting ready

The VOR and the participants in her annual womens trip were windbound on Sand Island last year when they met some fellows from the Des Moine and Omaha area. To make a long story short, we are meeting those folks on York Island Sunday for a three day paddle that involves a trip out to Devils Island. We will be heading up Friday however, and the 'first shift' of the trip will involve the BessemerConvivialist, RonO, BDahlieOfMahtomedi, and LoneRangerRob. Like a professional wrestling tag team match, the two groups will tag off some time on Sunday afternoon.

There have been accusations leveled at me that claim I have the easiest job packing for a trip because I never completely unpack from the previous one. There is a certain truth to that but different trips require very different packing. For instance, last night I had to retrieve my rainsuit and wool Pendleton shirt from my Duluth pack and stick it in a dry bag (closed circuit to Pod: I believe my vintage green wool shirt with the elbow patches is hanging on the back of a bar stool at CampO). Gear acquisition and refinements require changes in packing as well. A complete lack of bugs combined with the purchase of bug shirts has led me to conclude that the 'bat cave', the Cooke tarp with mosquito net, will be staying home this weekend. Also, a new camping wok will replace the frying pan and a couple smaller water bags have retired the large, heavy duty zip lock top water bag that had earned the nickname, The POS. Figure it out.

Getting ready also involves some practice and training. This summer has had more than its share of wet exits, paddle float reentries, various rolls, and long fitness paddles. Last weekend the KingOfIronwoodIsland and I thrashed around in LakeO practicing the above skills and then Sunday knocked off a 12 mile paddle that averaged a hair under 5mph. The weekend before that, the VOR demonstrated how practice makes perfect when she executed the perfect T-rescue in 3 foot seas with the help of RacinRick.My guess is that she was back in her boat in about 90 seconds. Word from Omaha is that the same thing has been happening down there, only with a bit warmer water.

The only issue now is when we all arrive on Sand Island. Some folks work late on Friday and there may be a night crossing in the works, the first one of the season. Two or more people, a bright moon, headlamps, and cooperative wind and seas can make a night crossing a magical event. Just as long as we all remember that even in the dog days of August Lake Superior is indeed the boss.

Monday, July 27, 2009


This weekend marked one of the sporadic and intermittent reunions of the folks who lived at 212 1st Avenue while attending college at UW-Eau Claire. The house, better known as Phelta Thi, the anti fraternity, was right across the street from the campus, a valuable benefit if one arose 5 minutes before class started. We lived there before the movie Animal House was made, and have considered suing the producers for intellectual theft a number of times. This years event was special, both because we haven't had one for a number of years, and also because we had a couple friends who would never be attending another Phelta Thi reunion. Meeshaw died in Anchorage, AK after undergoing a quadruple bypass operation last year. JohnnyK died in a motorcycle accident 4 years ago. This years gathering at CampO would not only be the usual eating, beer drinking, power lounging, and lie telling, but we also had planned a little memorial service.
People rolled in Friday night and the keg was tapped. It became apparent that the old nicknames would be needed when the 'three Chucks' showed up. Little Chuck, Big Chuck, and Rumberg it became once again. Friday night ended on the predictable late note and the memorial service was wisely planned for late afternoon, pre-happy hour, out on a point in the lake that has been christened Chapel Hill. LC (Little Chuck) and his indentured servant, JohnT, cleared some land and set up a nice pulpit on the lake, complete with benches. It was a sunny, breezy, perfect Wisconsin afternoon when we all headed out there, either by foot or by kayak. I must say its probably the only memorial service that I'll ever attend via kayak. While none of us could be described as religious, I think most of us could be categorized as spiritual. The old gothic cathedral architects in the middle ages built soaring spires so they would be closer to God. Somehow I think this little spot out in the woods, next to the lake, with no sights or sounds of civilization, might be just a little bit closer to Him. The informal service began with LC stepping up to the podium and telling stories of our two buddies. One after another we told stories (those that could be told in mixed company, of course) about our two departed friends and expressed what they had meant to us and how they would be missed. Betsy and Rose, the two widows, made it up (Rose all the way from Anchorage) and represented the living connection to our buddies Meeshaw and JohnnyK. We were all grateful that they took the time to make it to what many would consider to be the middle of nowhere. Our buddy Boston flew up from Atlanta and most other folks drove from the tri state area of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. These are the kind of friends where it makes no differnece if you saw them yesterday or haven't seen them for 20 years. Things just pick up in the same spot. It doesn't matter if you're a CEO or a fast food trainee, its who you are and not what you are to these guys and always has been. In fact JohnnyK, the year before he passed, had George Dubya visit his manufacturing plant in Chippewa Falls on his western Wisconsin 2004 election swing. It was observed that he talked to President Bush in the same way that he talked to Boston, Elmer (another crony that made the trip) or me for that matter.

The informal service was completed and we drifted back to camp, some through the woods and some over the water. A few of us stopped to view the memorial stone that had been placed out on the point for another friend, BornReadyAl, who died in a car accident in 1990. I guess this point is getting more special all the time. Who knows if perhaps the Anishnabe people who lived in the area had used the same spot? The one thing it pointed out for me is that none of us are getting out of this alive and that if we worry a bit more about friends, peace of mind, and our well being rather than how many dollars we can pile up, we and the world will be a much better place. Thanks again LC, it was a great idea and a great weekend.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grand Marais harbor - crimminal neglect

On our Friday paddle at the symposium last weekend, we launched at the mouth of the Hurricane River and paddled over two shipwrecks in the short distance it took us to reach the AuSable lighthouse. It's one thing to have the lighthouse available for mariners to avoid the "shipwreck coast" and quite another to have a harbor of refuge to duck into "when the waves turn the minutes to hours". Grand Marais harbor, the scene of much of the teaching at the symposium, has been that harbor of refuge since Congress recognized its value as such in 1880. In a couple of years however, it may only be suitable for launching kayaks because the breakwater, essential for keeping sand out of the bay during the frequent fall nor'easters, has gone completely to hell.

The last time any work was done on the harbor breakwater, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel's Afrika Corp was charging across the north African desert and President Franklin Roosevelt was meeting with Winston Churchill in Casablanca. Most of the wooden piling breakwater is gone and the remains were paddled over many times last weekend. The impact of this neglect was brought home tragically when three out of four Grand Marais fisherman drowned during a rapidly developing October storm in 2006. They had launched an 18' boat because it was impossible to launch a larger one due to the sand that had filled in the harbor. When they got into trouble, none of the many available boats could launch to assist them and they had to wait for the Coast Guard helicopter from Traverse City on the lower peninsula. Only one of the four returned to Grand Marais.

The definition of criminal negligence is, "the failure to use reasonable care to avoid consequences that threaten or harm the safety of the public and that are the foreseeable outcome of acting in a particular manner". I would submit that the government knew of the threat to public safety that resulted when a 90 mile stretch of, arguably, the wildest lake on the planet had no harbor of refuge. That's why Congress addressed that fact when they declared Grand Marais a harbor of refuge in 1880. I would also have to think that the foreseeable outcome of letting the breakwater go to hell and having the harbor become unusable would be mariners that perished because they either had no place to go or their rescuers couldn't get to them in a timely fashion. I stand by my headline on this post.

After our pasty dinner, a Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium tradition and a fundraiser for the senior class of Grand Marais high school, Burt Township supervisor Jack Hubbard spoke on the issue and filled us all in on the ongoing effort to prod the government into doing whats right. He spoke with the passion that only a man who lost friends could bring to the table. Through relentless and dogged efforts, classic Yooper stubbornness as my buddies from Ironwood would say, the wheels appear to be slowly turning in the direction of fixing this problem. For about $6-8 million bucks, a rounding error in the federal budget, the problem can be solved. I've personally seen the superb new harbors of refuge along the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. One of 'em is only a couple miles north of the port of Duluth-Superior. If they can build harbors of refuge every 35-40 miles up there, and we are talking building from scratch on a couple of them, I don't know why the hell we can't maintain an existing harbor that's plunked down in the middle of 90 miles of some of the most treacherous water on the big lake.

The folks in Grand Marais are pushing hard and steadily on this issue. As a lover of Lake Superior, a GitcheeGumeeGuy, I think the least I can do is drop off a couple notes to my elected representatives that represent us folks on that same big lake. Michigan's two senators are on board and making their colleagues in other Great Lakes states aware of this problem can't hurt a bit. Heck, send them a link to this post and/or the Save Your Harbor website and bring a little 'kayaker heat' on these guys.

It has been 66 years since anything constructive has been done besides jawboning about the issue. Its time folks, and it needs to be done quickly. According to a Marine Engineer from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, about 6,000 semi loads of sand per year are being blown into the harbor. If people keep the issue on the front burner it will happen. Those round rocks along the lake weren't round when they first got there. It took years and years of relentless and constant wave action for them to get that way. The folks in Grand Marais have been exerting that 'wave action' on the government for years and it would be great if we users and lovers of the lake could give them a little assist. Let's git er done!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Touring, racing, and swimming

Friday is normally tour day at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium and a lot of folks did get out for some sightseeing in the Pictured Rocks area. Four of us put together our own little tour from the Hurricane River back to Grand Marais, a distance of about a dozen miles. Racin'Rick and JewelryJane had a nice compact double and the VOR and I paddled our usual craft, the Avocet and the Q boat. We got all the boats on RR's roof rack so we could do a one way trip. The route took us past the Au Sable lighthouse, a couple of shipwrecks that prompted the construction of the lighthouse, and the impressive Au Sable dunes.

Saturdays weather was building already on Friday. Wind and waves were freshening out of the northwest and the seas were already in the 1-3' range that had been forecast. I shoved off the double and the VOR, and then did the 'knuckle walk thing' to launch. The shot of the lighthouse is one that I heisted from a previous trip since the water was too rough to pull the Nikon out of the deck bag. We oogled the dunes, felt properly dwarfed by their size, and headed east down the shore for lunch at the mouth of Sable Creek. A quick hike up to the falls and we launched again. It was about 200 yards off the beach that the VoiceOfReason took her very first involuntary dip in Lake Superior while kayaking.

As happens frequently, a rock had been pounded up in the skeg box and she needed someone to give it a yank and free it. While attempting to raft up with the double, she reached over to brace herself on the bow except the bow was gone; a three footer had moved it about 18" away. I turned when I heard the splash and saw white hull and a floating Tilley hat. She was quickly up however, hanging on to the boat and her paddle leash hanging on to the paddle. RR and JJ quickly got the T rescue going and in just a minute or so the VOR was back in her boat and snapping on her spray skirt.

It was a very efficient and panic free rescue. A person never knows how they or their companions will react in that kind of situation but this reaction and recovery would have passed the ICE test with flying colors. More importantly, the VOR was confident back in her boat and didn't miss a beat. When I first started paddling, I was on a guided trip out of Bayfield and a woman went over. When she got back in her boat her confidence was shot. She had to switch to a double (maybe that's whey they bring those things along; that and to carry more beer) in order to make it back to camp. None of that tense, frozen up attitude in this situation however, and we cruised around the increasing hectic and clapotis plagued jetty and into the harbor.

The next day it would be Racin'Rick's and my turn for involutary swimming. RR was leading the harbor race when he applied just a hair too much edge on a turn. Over he went. The thing that really stunk was that he was leading the race at the time, only 20 yards from the finish. Once again a perfect T rescue and he was a across the finish line.

My unexpected inverted experience occurred when I was demonstrating a forward finishing roll to RR while he was trying out my stout basswood Greenland cudgel and I had my old Sitka spruce backup paddle. RonO had explained a couple years ago how he had busted a carbon fiber Greenland stick doing that very same roll but I guess I'm just not a quick learner. Over I went and was about halfway up when I heard and felt the snap. Once again I was upside down with half a stick in my hand. I was able to get set up and roll up successfully with half a stick but I certainly did get that rush of adrenaline.

The one common thread to all three capsizes was that we all had practiced what to do dozens of times. Like most endeavors, practice makes perfect and while perfection might have not been achieved in any of the cases, we all recovered nicely, quickly, and efficiently. Yet another reminder that if you keep your skills up they will be there when you need them.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Learning on the 'outside'

This years Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in Grand Marais, MI was not the usual balmy affair that it has been in many years past. A three day northwest blow brought low temperatures, building seas, and a bit of rain from time to time. It also altered the class and tour schedules dramatically.

Saturdays tours were all canceled. 50F (10C) temps and a northwest blow of 20-25 knots meant that the waves had a solid hundred plus miles to build to the 3'-5' range before hitting the south shore of Lake Superior. All of the various strokes, rolling, rescue, and towing classes pretty much switched to Wind and Waves I, II, or III. Everyone divided up and when the sorting was over my friend Racin'Rick and I were the lone 'W&W III' guys, along with 3 instructors, including fellow blogger and surf guru, Keith Wikle. We both confessed that we were far from 'advanced' surf guys but we were really curious about what advanced surf guys did and wanted to learn the skill set. We both remarked that we liked that 1.5 instructor to student ratio. We also immediately observed that we were the two guys without the helmets.

The plan was to head to the 'outside', the area outside the breakwater and spend time paddling up into the waves and then spinning around and surfing back down. Since I planned on going over at some point, I decided to get wet right off the bat and got an immediate lesson. I did my 'bombproof' sweep roll and didn't come up. The combination of my touring pfd (I've been practicing all summer with a small inflatable under my tuliq) and the fact that I had gone over down wave kind of screwed up my lift. I got up into a sculling brace and by that time Keith was over next to me. It was a wakeup call for sure. The actual surfing was great. I'm just not used to going that fast in a kayak and it required really being tuned in to body and paddle position. Things happened very quickly and the paddle needed to be in constant position for a low brace or quick sweep if the boat began to broach. I chickened out a couple times and back paddled off the wave but the learning came quickly. 10 to 15 yard rides on the first run turned into 30, 40, and 50 yard rides on subsequent runs. Exhilirating, exciting, and crazy fun all at the same time. It was also exhausting paddling up into the seas for us two AARP eligible gents. We all agreed that we were in pretty consistent 3 footers with the stray 5 footer from time to time. When we were all in the trough I couldn't see the other guys paddle tips so I figured about 4.5' or so. Note the top of my head on the left in the image below.

One of the many techniques that Keith showed us was to maximize our stroke efficiency by grabbing the top of the wave with the paddle as it passed underneath. This tended to propel the boat down the back of the wave and use less energy. Even with that tip, Racin'Rick and I both agreed that we were more whipped than after our 12 mile paddle the day before. The combination of working hard to get to the top of the run and probably being overly tense on the down run made for an Ibuprofen kind of day. After playing in the surf a bit, side slipping and low bracing, I decided that if I was going to do any classes that afternoon and, more importantly, any dancing that evening, that I needed to call it a morning. Keith paddled back with me for a bit until he decided that I probably had things under control and then he headed back for more surfing fun. Ah, to be young again!

Two Ibuprofen, a pint of ESB at the Dunes Saloon to wash down my burger, and a 20 minute power nap had me warmed up and ready for the afternoon. While we were 'outside' the VOR had wandered out on the breakwater and shot most of the images on this post. It was a great learning experience and a really fun morning. The quickness of the action really made paddling fundamentals important because any little 'twitch' or error and a swim was likely. It was a tough day for Greenland sticks however. Keith had a wave break his while it was under his back deck bungees and I broke my old Sitka spruce paddle while demonstrating a forward finishing reverse sweep roll. I should know better. Even with that minor disappointment, it was a great day to be on the water and a great environment for accelerated learning and furthering our kayak skill set. I can't wait for some more big water to get out and play!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Off to the Grand Marais sea kayak symposium

This will be the last post until after the weekend as the VoiceOfReason and I are off to the 25th Annual Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in Grand Marais, Michigan. Last years route to the event was a bit more dramatic as we circumnavigated Lake Superior, mainly by car, after an annual family get together in Grand Marais, Minnesota. This year will be a 'shortest distance between two points' kinda trip

Grand Marais, MI does not have a lot in common with Grand Marais, MN other than both of them are dominated by and have their community personalities formed by Gitchee Gumee. The Minnesota community is right on the main highway up the north shore and is crawling with tourists from about July through leaf season and has a population of about 1,400. Its Michigan counterpart, population 350, is at the absolute end of a two lane road and people don't just pass through, they are headed there. Tourism is still big, being that its the eastern end of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, but it retains much more of its small town charm. The Yuppie tourist seems to be more prevalant in Minnesota, lured there by the many gallerys and reputation as an 'artists community'. The topography of the north shore is rocky, jagged, and much of it is private. The south shore of the lake in the Grand Marais area is mostly sandy with 12 mile beach (guess why they call it that?) and the Au Sable Dunes, one of the most amazing natural phenomona on the lake.The two towns are very different but I enjoy them both. Both have friendly local watering holes, the Gunflint Tavern in Minnesota and the Lake Superior Brewpub in Michigan, that offer beers not normally found in towns their size . Their harbors are remarkably similar in size and shape, which is likely why they both have the same name, 'great marsh', coined by French fur trappers. Anyway, by nightfall we hope to be about halfway there at the estate of Pod and the Gurney Granny. Detailed posts to follow.....after the fun, of course.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Paddle safe

I probably should have written this post a couple weeks ago to remind folks of this crucial safety task. After returning from watching the fireworks from our not so secret vantage point, a spot that allows people to watch the fireworks from Minneapolis as well as three other suburbs, I remembered that the 4th of July was also 'blow off expired flares' day. On the previous 4th of July a group of the usual suspects was on Rocky Island in the Apostles, watching the fireworks from towns up and down the north shore of Minnesota. At 20 to 40 miles away they were tiny and in our wilderness site on Rocky we felt that setting off aerial flares, even on the 4th of July, might not be the brightest idea. My driveway seemed to be the perfect spot however, and if the St Anthony cops stayed occupied elsewhere, I would be golden. The VOR wanted no part of the foolishness but relented because, after all, everyone loves explosives on some level.

I had a .666 success rate with the three flares I touched off. Since I did have the suspect Orion Skyblazer flares, I had heavy gloves and a wool hat to prevent any unwanted explosions. Why not just throw them away you ask? Its a guy thing. A few years back at the hunting camp, Pod and I were testing the new dog shock collar. He held it to his neck and I triggered the shock, which caused him to jump, curse,and nearly fall off his chair. I then took the collar, held it to my neck, and the same thing happened when he hit the switch. The GurneyGranny,watching this unfold, shook her head disgustedly and asked, "You just saw him almost fall off the chair when you hit the switch, why the hell did you let him do the same thing to you? Are you both idiots?". Nope, just guys; its a guy thing. None of the flares exploded and sent flaming red sulphur down my arm, so all was good there. The problem was that the first one I ignited just kind of plooped about 100' in the air and fell to earth on the nursing home lawn across the street and burned a 6" diameter circle in the grass. The next two did what they were supposed to do and arced high into the sky, 500' or so, and burned for the prescribed 6 seconds.

A secondary benefit of lighting the expired flares was that it allowed me to purchase the long coveted 12 gauge flare gun. I can't wait to fire these things off three years from now, assuming I don't need to use them for real. The only time I came close to using flares in an emergency was when GalwayGuy had some sort of food poisoning and was dehydrated to the point of hallucination (with kidney shutdown right around the corner). That time I used that other more reliable and effective safety device, the radio. As the Coast Guard headed for our location on the southeast corner of Oak Island they kept asking my position. I figured out later that there are probably some people who don't really know which island they were on and this Coast Guard crew had likely dealt with that. I told them I could see them heading right for me and that I was waving a yellow paddle float on the end of my paddle. I offered to pop a flare but they said they had me and GG was quickly floated out to the boat, pumped full of fluids, and whisked off to Ashland hospital. The VOR went with him so I was stuck on Oak Island with three boats, but that's another story.

Bring your flares, and bring your radio. Just last week a woman was evacuated from Otter Island by the Coast Guard after inadvertantly eating peanuts and going anaphylactic shock. Not good, but I can only assume that a radio call went out and that the Coast Guard got there in time. Anything can happen and it probably will so have your first aid kit, flares, and marine VHS/weather radio. As the title of this post, as well as our buddy Silbs says, paddle safe.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Achieving a Happy Bottom

With both sons in town from opposite coasts, the VOR in Grand Marais for a family campout, and the weather absolutely perfect, I probably should have spent most of my time playing outside. For some inexplicable reason I found myself in the garage, tinkering with the kayaks instead of paddling in them. I did manage to get out for a lovely paddle on Lake Owasso, a lake I've never been on before, but most of the morning was spent working on the fleet.

Almost everyone adds a bit of foam or outfits their boat in some fashion. As the owner of a couple Valley boats, the quest for comfort is a bit more radical. Out of the three Valley boats in the fleet, we've managed to break the seats on two of them and it was only a matter of time before the third one went. The boats handle great, paddle wonderfully, and are as strong and tough as they come. The seats however, are miserable. Unlike the old Valley molded seats, these are ABS and bolted to the deck. The back band is guaranteed to fold down underneath the paddler after awhile and the relatively brittle ABS will break, especially when you're learning some of the more interesting forward finishing rolls. These rolls are unusually hard on seats as well as Greenland sticks while in the learning phase. Yesterdays exercise involved ripping the seat and footpegs out of the Q boat and repairing the seat and dumping the backband on the Aquanaut HV.

I'd managed to get my hands on a 3' x 3' square piece of ABS after thieves tried to break into my Thule ski box by smashing the hell out of it last winter. A coping saw, torch, and some highly noxious ABS cement will have the cracked and broken ABS part as good as new in no time. Plus by double reinforcing the stress area it may prevent a repeat failure. Cement the crack, heat up the patch with the torch to conform it to the part being repaired, slap the cement on both sides, and press on the patch and wait for it to dry. It looks ugly but it does the trick.

That same coping saw can be used to shape the foam when seat and footpegs finally cause enough aggravation to be removed completely. Slicing off a bit at a time will allow the foam to be shaped perfectly for optimal comfort. I did purchase a foam seat from Chesapeake Light Craft, a seat that was in the Valley Skerry that GalwayGuy and I owned, a seat named, appropriately enough, the Happy Bottom pad. For a back rest I alternate between a shaped foam pad and an inflatable thigh support that seems to provide great support and flexibility for rolling.

Its tough to start cutting and wrenching on a pricey new boat but, as many others have also written, its well worth it in the end. Everyone has a different shape and modifying the boat to fit that shape exactly makes paddling more efficient, comfortable, and thus more fun.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Calhoun Rolling

For the first time in my career, I paddled to and from a business meeting. I had signed up long ago to help with a rolling session that our club, SKOAC, was holding on Lake Calhoun near uptown Minneapolis. A trade group that I belong to was working on some marketing stuff and I needed to be there, if only to hand off my part of the project. When 'Wednesday, late afternoon' was proposed as the time folks could get together, I told them that the only way I could attend would be if it was held at the Tin Fish, a little seafood joint in the old boathouse on Lake Calhoun. It was a beautiful day and the suggestion received unanimous approval from my 4 associates. The only condition from my all female group was a pleading request that no tight neoprene or spandex paddle gear of any sort was to be worn. I was happy to oblige. After the meeting, fueled by some beer and waffle fries (in the curious world of Minnesota liquor laws, certain establishments are required to serve food with their wine and beer), I put on my tuliq, demonstrated a couple rolls, and headed over to the north beach where the class was beginning to gather.

Rolling classes always seem to draw a crowd. I guess the 'Eskimo roll' is thought of as the ultimate kayaking skill, although I've always believed in the adage, "Roll for show, brace for dough". It seems very appropriate that the start of rolling classes always involves working on the low brace, high brace, and sculling brace. Watching how people work with those skills and concepts always seems to indicate how they will do when its actually time to tip over. Those who methodically view it as a process and work on the steps inevitably do better than the ones with the attitude of 'yeah, yeah, yeah, lets get this crap done with so I can tip over and roll up effortlessly'. Which of course, they never do unless they have the other skills down. I worked with a couple folks that were unlucky enough to draw the guy with the least teaching experience, but by the end of the session both had managed to break the habit of diving their paddle and had the nice airplane wing concept going on the surface of the water. All of the little memory analogies are fun as well. "Farting on a bar stool" for the concept of lifting a knee and butt cheek to drive the boat up, "serving a tray of drinks" for the hand position at the end of a roll, and "pretend there's a $50 bill in your armpit that someones trying to grab" for the idea of keeping the elbows in to protect the shoulder.

There were varying levels of success with the light coming on for some and the fuse needing changing for others. Everyone seemed to have fun, even with the onshore wind and cool temperatures, and I guess that's what its all about in the end. We have a great group of instructors and students, including RonO and the IrishPirate in the top image, and even had a rare pre nuptial appearance by an accomplished greenland style roller. I'll leave you with a video of some crazy behind the neck forward finishing roll by our soon to be wed Greenland paddler.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Flying history

TheLegend and I experienced a bit of aviation history on Sunday when we flew a "mission" on the Aluminum Overcast, a B-17 Flying Fortress that is touring the Midwest on it's way to the EAA airshow in Oshkosh at the beginning of next month. I've wanted to fly in one of these things since I was about 10 years old. My dad was in the 9th USAAF, which flew twin engined attack bombers, A-20's and A-26's, and their base at Wethersfield, England also had a group of 8th Army Air Force B-17's. My godfather Owen was the top turret gunner on a B-24 and was shot down and spent the last year of the war in a Luft Stalag. My bro' in law's dad, as unassuming a fellow as you would ever meet, was a waist gunner on a B-17 and flew over 20 missions. When I was in England a few years back I ran into an elderly English gent with a chest full of WWII decorations on his suit coat. I noticed an 8th USAAF pin and commented that I noticed he had an 'allied' medal. He told me he was at his RAF base when the first 'Flying Fortress' landed in England. "When I saw those airplanes I turned to me mate and told him that old Hitler was in for it now!" After reading, listening to first person oral histories, and watching documentaries about the B-17, I finally decided it was time to pull the trigger and figured TheLegend, who watched these planes on the movie newsreels as 14 year old kid and is as much of a history buff as I am, would get a thrill out of it as well.

We lured him down here under pretense of a 4th of July beer and burger feed with the GraciousPartier and No1 daughter, the VOR, in on the surprise. I told him I had a tip that the B-17 was at Anoka Co airport and that if we got out there early, we could see them fire up the big radial engines for the first time of the day. He was all over that and off we went. He didn't realize we were going up until the crew chief came over, introduced himself, and asked TheLegend to sign the wavier. I'd been excited for 24 hours and now he was equally excited. We got our preflight briefing which did not involve exit rows, seat backs and tray tables, or lit seat belt signs. We boarded the B-17 with shoes on, jacknives in pockets, 8-10 ounces of any liquid we desired, and a sense of excitement and anticipation rather than the usual 'cattle to the slaughter' feeling you have as you shuffle down the jetway staring at the back of the poor SOB in front of you. We strapped into the webbing seats with military seat belts,plenty of leg room, and rumbled to the take off point. Smoke from the engines was wafting up through the belly turret and the four Wright Cyclone engines were pretty loud. We were told we were free to wander around right after wheels up which is exactly what everyone did. We went through the bomb bay on the catwalk, to the radio room, flight deck, and the awesome view from the plexiglass nose where the bombardier sat with his Norden bombsight. A bunch of pictures can be found here if you're so inclined. We were cruising at around 160mph and the top hatch was open so you could stick your head out a bit and look around. It was the highlight of the year and perhaps the decade for me. TheLegend put it on par with his sailing trip across the Atlantic in a 42 footer, which was high ranking indeed.

When we landed, the VOR and GP toured the plane on the ground. The GP commented that it was pretty sparse, much more spartan than she had thought. All the control cables run along the ceiling and under the deck and we were told that if we grabbed them, the pilots could feel it in the controls. All function and no frills. Creature comforts were completely lacking and we all thought about what it would be like to fly a several hour mission at -40F with anti aircraft fire and enemy fighters a constant worry.

During the briefing the crew chief told us that he had never had anyone get off the aircraft and say that it wasn't worth it. TheLegend and I would have to agree completely. The sheer physical pleasure combined the the historical background and perspective made it the perfect end to the 4th of July weekend.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Square Lake picnic and looking down

With us in town and a bunch of our friends up in the Apostles, the VOR and I decided a kayak picnic would be a good plan for our Friday off. We recruited BDahlieOfMahtomedi and the IrishPirate and headed for Square Lake in eastern Washington County, a 30 minute drive from our joint. Square Lake is the cleanest and clearest lake in the metro area, the lake that a number of local dive groups use for scuba training. We feared overcrowding on a beautiful day when lots of people were off but were pleasantly surprised. The park, the only park on the lake, requires a $5 parking pass and once again the truism, 'if you tax something you'll get less of it and if you subsidize it you'll get more of it' held true.

It is an interesting lake on a number of levels besides its amazing clarity. They have a slot from noon to 4pm on weekends and holidays where you can buzz around on your speedboat or jet ski, but after that the entire lake is a no wake zone. Its probably not as effective in limiting them as my Modest Proposal for a Jet Ski Hunting Season (two jet skis bag limit per season, either sex, license $28 Residents, $145 non residents), but it more in keeping with my 'lets all get along' philosophy from the last post. There is also a complete and refreshing lack of 'McMansions' on the lake. The common thing around here is to buy a parcel on a lake, tear down the small vintage cottage that was built in the 1940's or '50's, and erect a monument to yourself and your undersized male appendage for all to enjoy as it looms over the lake like some medieval castle. I don't know if its a zoning, historic, or just a common sense thing but the lake still has those tiny cottages from another era. The most interesting aspect however, is the clarity of the water.

Most paddles involve cruising along the shore at a steady pace, getting the forward stroke dialed in, and conversing about the sights along the shoreline. There was some discussion of the scenery but the focus quickly went downward into the water when the VOR spotted a turtle cruising below her boat. For most of the rest of the paddle we moseyed along, looking at the fish and vegetation, sometimes doing more sculling, bow rudders, and draw strokes than forward strokes. The vegetation was all native with none of the despised Eurasian Milfoil or Purple Loosestrife in evidence (thanks a lot for those fine invasives, Great Lakes ballast water!). There are lots of native snails and bass and bluegill nests, as well as the fish themselves, were evident all along the shoreline. It was a refreshing change from the lake weeds and algae blooms that we are starting to see here in lake country this time of year.

The day ended with an old fashioned picnic with grilled burgers, shish kabobs, potato salad, and beans. Oh, and an adult beverage or two was ingested as well. Another quick lap around the lake, a few rolls that could not be avoided in such pristine water, and we were outta there, some of the last folks to leave the park at around 9pm. Maybe this staying in town thing ain't so bad once in awhile.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The hugging of trees

A couple of things popped up over the past couple of weeks that made me scratch my head once again. One was the big '350' formation made of over 100 kayaks at the Inland Sea Society Kayak Symposium and the other seemingly unrelated event was the relisting of the gray wolf on the Endangered Species list.

The 350 formation was one of the highlights of the symposium for many people. is a group dedicated to reducing carbon in the atmosphere to the acceptable level of 350 ppm. There are a number 'actions' have been or will be executed over the next several months to bring more public awareness to the issue. Pulling this one off was a combination of hard work and pure luck. The formation was laid out using rejected webbing that CharlyR, head of the ISS, had scrounged . Field Marshal Gail Green orchestrated the setup, 10 boats at a time, a job much akin to herding cats. The weather cooperated by not blowing up the northeast wind, a wind that RonO and I used for some fine surfing, until two hours after the formation had been completed. It went perfectly but a couple of environmental purists in the crowd questioned the use of an evil, internal combustion powered, fossil fuel burning airplane to take pictures of the event.

On the wolf front, even though all of the state and federal agencies involved as well as noted wolf researchers Rolf Peterson, David Mech, and others agree that the Great Lakes population has recovered robustly and should be delisted, a number of interest groups won a lawsuit which plopped the wolves squarely back on the Endangered Species list.

Two "environmental insiders", Mike Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus wrote and published an essay, The Death of Environmentalism in 2005 and followed it up with a book, Breakthrough: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. In a nutshell, they contend that confrontational techniques and a strategy based upon restricting growth and development just doesn't seem to strike a chord with anyone, developing nations or the industrial ones. They argue for a new kind of development, one that takes ecological, economic, and social change into account and actually has an optimistic view of the future. Instead of the politics of fear and restriction, they suggest that we need to galvanize people and institution's creativity and enterprise to meet critical environmental challenges.

In other words, maybe if we can work together on some of this stuff, rather than flaunt and revel in our perceived ideological purity, there will be some significant progress. A prime example was two very different acquaintances that attended the Renewable Energy Fair in Steven's Point the weekend of the symposium. RangerMark, a guy who walks the walk on environmental issues and doesn't even own a soapbox and my cousin Joe, a pickup owner and Harley rider who's idea of fun is restoring old Ford Mustangs. I would have to say that the boys are about 180 degrees opposite politically but both took the long drive (in fossil fuel burning vehicles....likely solo....gasp!!) to explore possible alternatives. RM is working on implementing wind power at his place of employment and Joe is planning on building a flat plate pellet mill when he retires to use biomass to heat his house. A former colleague, the ZumbroFallsImpressionist, is passionate about land use and is a Sierra Club diehard. She helped negotiate a land use issue by reaching out to Ducks Unlimited, an organization not normally spoken of in the same breath as the Sierra Club. Different people with different backgrounds and philosophies finding that there is common ground on many of these problems.

Bottom line: we need to figure out how we can work together on issues like the two mentioned above and cut the ideological crap. The people whimpering about the airplane on the 350 formation probably drove their car up to Washburn with one or two people in it. The wolf huggers would probably think differently if they had a hobby farm in wolf country or their precious purebred mutt were attacked. Get off the soapbox, reach out to someone who it NOT like you, and let's git er done. As the Duke once said, "We're burnin' daylight".